By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The nation’s new energy secretary said Monday that a breach in security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was unacceptable and he’s taking steps to make sure it isn’t compromised again.
Ernest Moniz, who was sworn in last month, made the Oak Ridge National Laboratory his first official trip in office. Later in the day he planned to visit the Y-12 National Security Complex, which was broken into by a nun and two other protesters last year.
“Clearly this was an unacceptable breach of security,” Moniz told reporters after a brief tour of the lab’s $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source facility.
“With or without the Y-12 incident, safety and security are essential core elements of our mission. I’m in discussion in the department, in the administration and in the Congress right now, talking about how we will move forward on some organizational changes.”
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s first visit to Oak Ridge was short and busy, but he still came away impressed, according to Frank Munger. Cantor was keynote speaker Thursday at the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit, offering his views on budget battles in Washington, taking a few light jabs at the White House and showing he’d done a little research on Oak Ridge before he arrived and went straight to the stage.
“From the beginning, I know that Oak Ridge has been one of America’s strongest forces for peace,” Cantor said, referencing the Atomic City’s role in the World War II Manhattan Project.
The Virginia Republican tied the early atomic work on weapons, which ultimately were used to “help break the back of the Soviet Union” in the Cold War, to Oak Ridge’s pioneering role in producing radioisotopes for cancer therapies, which he called proof “of the serendipity of science.”
He said these were “amazing feats” and a source of inspiration and innovation.
Cantor said there’s a lot of discussion in Washington these days about the proper role of the federal government, and he said it is “appropriate and desirable” for federal policy to serve as a catalyst for the discoveries that take place at the facilities in Oak Ridge.
“The job in Washington is to encourage the innovation,” he said. “It is not to allow gridlock to stand in the way.”
Following his remarks, Cantor got a 25-minute tour of the Y-12 National Security Complex.
He fielded a few questions from the news media, and then was whisked away to speak at a $500-a-plate fundraiser for his host, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
— Note: See also the Chattanooga Times-Free Press report, HERE.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An elderly nun and two other nuclear protesters asked Thursday to be released from jail as they await sentencing for breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex and defacing the walls of a uranium processing plant.
A judge could rule on that next week, but on Thursday said they will have to stay in jail at least until then.
Sister Megan Rice, 83, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed (bohr-CHEE’ OH-bed’) were convicted Wednesday of interfering with national security and damaging federal property during last year’s incursion. They cut through security fences, hung banners, strung crime-scene tape and hammered off a small chunk of the fortress-like Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility inside the most secure part of the complex.
The break-in caused a temporary shutdown at the facility and a change in security contractors. But jurors weren’t swayed by the defense argument that the protesters actually aided national security by exposing flaws at the facility.
The trio appeared in court Thursday in handcuffs and leg irons seeking their release until their Sept. 23 sentencing. At one point, defense attorney Francis Lloyd asked U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar for permission to put his jacket over Rice’s shoulders, saying that the nun was chilly. The judge allowed it.
Prosecutor Jeff Theodore said the government opposes the trio’s release, noting that they testified during trial that they felt no remorse for their actions.
Defense attorney Bill Quigley argued that the defendants had refrained from any more incursions between when they were arrested in July and went to trial this week.
“The give their word not to engage in that kind of activity pending sentencing,” he said.
The three could get up to 20 years on the national security count, which they have asked Thapar to throw out on grounds of insufficient evidence. Thapar set July 29 as the deadline for legal filings on that motion.
Gov. Bill Haslam warns federal spending cuts looming at the end of this week would affect not just the state’s budget, but also Tennessee’s economy as a whole, reports WPLN.
The sequester would furlough some federal workers in places like Fort Campbell and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, potentially setting back local economies.
Haslam is careful to say he believes the federal government should spend less money, but he sees the sequester as the wrong approach, pointing to across-the-board cuts in places like Oak Ridge. They would do equal harm to projects that are needed, Haslam says, as to those he called a nice-to, but not a have-to.
“Take a workforce development program or training program – that would be cut 8 percent, just like cleaning up mercury out of the water and land that they’re in the middle of a process. And you’re gonna call the project off; the contractor who we’ve hired to do that, I guarantee you it’ll cost more to pull them off and send them back than the money you save there.”
The value of the government’s economic stimulus program has been a hot topic of debate, particularly during this political season, but — not surprisingly — the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act gets warm reviews in Oak Ridge, reports Frank Munger. The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received about $1.9 billion from the 2009 Recovery Act. About $1.2 billion of that windfall was designated for projects — ranging from environmental cleanup to construction of new research facilities — to be carried out in Oak Ridge. Now into the fourth year of the program, DOE still holds tens of millions of dollars to be spent in 2013.
While the precision of stimulus job counts has been questioned by the Government Accountability Office and others, DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said a total of 3,863 jobs had been created or saved in Oak Ridge as of the end of July. At that time, there were still 424 workers supported by Recovery Act funding, Koentop said.
Much of the Recovery Act work in Oak Ridge has been carried out with subcontracts, which end as projects are completed and don’t impact the regular contractor workforce at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex and other federal facilities. Because the work was spread out over four years, there haven’t been the huge employment spikes — followed by steep layoffs — seen at other DOE sites with a lot of stimulus money to spend.
“The economic benefit has been huge,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said. “It’s spilled over into retail and housing and the services industry. It’s had a dynamic effect.”
EAST RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — A vote by the East Ridge City Council got the Viar family’s goat.
On a 3-1 vote with no discussion, the council on Thursday killed a proposal that would have made exceptions for pigmy goats and pot-bellied pigs in the city ordinance that bans farm animals.
Jeffrey Viar told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/Qp6C4R) his family would pack up their pigmy goat named Oreo and move.
East Ridge Animal Control Supervising Officer Jonathan Cooper urged the council to pass the exception. He argued the 40-pound black and white goat isn’t much different from medium-sized dogs.
Viar said he has been looking for the past few weeks and hopes to move just across the Georgia border so he can stay close to his mother and brother in East Ridge.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly scolded the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday for a security breach at the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in which three peace activists evaded guards and cut through fencing to infiltrate the facility’s highest-security area, reports Michael Collins. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the break-in appalling:
“Not only did you have a security breach,” she said, “you had a breach of public trust.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Y-12 infiltration was “a wake-up call if ever there was one.”
The July 28 security breach at the Oak Ridge plant, where warhead parts are manufactured and the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored, dominated a congressional hearing Wednesday on safety and security at the nation’s nuclear facilities.
Lawmakers said they were astounded that three pacifists, including an 82-year-old nun, managed to cut through several layers of fencing and spray-paint messages, hang banners and pour human blood on the site.
The newest mover and shaker in East Ridge politics likes to eat shrubbery, weighs 40 pounds and goes by the name Oreo, according to the Chattanooga TFP. The 1-year-old, black-and-white-haired pygmy goat scampered into the spotlight last week, when his owner Jeff Viar came before the East Ridge City Council and pleaded with the city not to take away the pet goat.
City code outlaws goats and other livestock in residential areas, but Oreo’s family say they did not know that until they found a citation on their front door this month.
…The city’s Facebook has been flooded with comments like “Save Oreo!!!” and “Awww let Oreo stay.” Some residents have discussed starting a petition to keep Oreo in East Ridge.
The goat has found some sympathy among city leaders, who say Oreo’s case is unusual because he’s domesticated and clean.
“Oreo is cute, no question about it. I’m actually kind of a fan of goats,” said East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble, who has posted photos and “notes from Oreo” to the city’s Facebook page. “But we have to enforce the ordinance or come up with an alternative.”
Gobble said the city’s animal control officer cited the family after receiving several anonymous complaints about the goat.
The Viars have had Oreo for a year — since he was just a spindly-legged kid. They got him from a family friend in Chickamauga, Ga., after their two children begged for a goat.
“They just didn’t want a dog. They wanted a different kind of animal,” Samantha Viar said.
…East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert said he can relate.
“I have young children; I can imagine how devastated they would be over losing a pet,” said Lambert. “If we can create a narrow exception in the law for Oreo and similar animals, certainly I’d be willing to look at that,”
…Gobble said he will ask the council for a 120-day moratorium on enforcing the anti-Oreo ordinance until the Hamilton County Regional Agency can look at the issue and provide some suggested course of action.
The council plans to continue the discussion at next month’s council meeting, set for Sept. 13.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge say three people were arrested early Saturday for trespassing and defacing a building in a high security area of the site.
A press release from the facility said the incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. and an investigation into how they got into the facility is being led by the Department of Energy Inspector General.
The individuals, whose names were not released by Y-12 officials, were to be transported to another facility to be processed with federal trespassing charges.
Y-12 maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and provides nuclear fuel for the Navy and for research reactors worldwide. The statement from the facility said the incident appeared to be a protest-related action.
Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the facility, said Saturday that the individuals used spray paint and a substance that looked like blood to deface the building.
Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/MU8CD3 ) that the three people were members of a group called Transform Now Plowshares. Ellen Barfield, who described herself as a friend of the group who had spoken with one of the people after the arrests, said the three individuals had cut through fences to get access and posted a banner and poured blood.
Barfield identified the three as Michael R. Walli, 63, of Washington, D.C.; Megan Rice, 82, of Nevada; and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, of Duluth, Minn.
Rice was listed in the Blount County jail’s online inmate information system as a federal inmate.
The nuclear complex does get protesters and activists to the site and Wyatt said they often stand in a public area near the facility’s front entrance. About a dozen activists were convicted last year of trespassing after they intentionally crossed a blue line separating state and federal property at the complex in 2010.
About 25 East Ridge city employees attended a reception for 3rd District Congressional candidate Scottie Mayfield during working hours and the city spent about $80 on providing snacks at the gathering, reports the Chattanooga TFP. It may have been just an hour of cookies and punch, but a recent reception sponsored by East Ridge city officials for a congressional candidate is drawing questions about how local taxpayer money may be used.
City Manager Tim Gobble insisted that the reception was not meant to be an endorsement and was an attempt to be “hospitable,” but other city leaders have said it was an inappropriate use of city funds.
“It just looks bad,” said Councilman Jim Bethune, who attended the event but said flatly he is not a Mayfield supporter. “I don’t think he meant it as an endorsement, but you start to think about whether this is really our place, as a city, to do that.”
The event stemmed from conversations Gobble said he had with Mayfield several weeks ago, when the city manager invited the candidate to stop by City Hall to meet employees. Other local candidates have stopped by City Hall to glad-hand with residents, but none have been afforded a formal reception.